By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
CHICAGO, April 11 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) warned Tuesday night that rising budget and trade deficits now threaten the nation's global competitiveness and called for economic policies that restore fiscal discipline in Washington, attack rising health care costs and ensure that middle-class Americans share more fully in the fruits of a growing economy.
The possible 2008 presidential candidate offered an alternative path to the policies pursued by President Bush, reproaching the current administration's record without directly attacking or even naming the incumbent. The closest she came to direct criticism was when she focused on the core of Bush's policies, saying, "Tax cuts alone cannot secure the middle class. They are not the cure-all for everything that ails the American economy."
Throughout most of the 55-minute address, Clinton presented herself as a problem-solver, stressing cooperation between business and government, calling for reduced partisanship in Washington and even quoting former president Ronald Reagan approvingly about driving down the deficit. "We can do this," she said, "but we've got to forge a bipartisan consensus."
Clinton spoke at a black-tie dinner held by the Economic Club of Chicago, and she used the forum to offer one of the most comprehensive statements of her views on economic policy since entering the Senate more than five years ago. Touching on energy policy, infrastructure investment, health care and the values that built the U.S. economy, she said that, given the challenges the United States faces globally, it is time to get back to fundamentals.
"I think a return to fiscal discipline, living within our means, is essential to our long-term health," she said. "It is also critical to whether or not we control our own destiny as a nation. Red-ink fiscal policies will undermine America's competitiveness. We have to ask ourselves whether our taxing and spending policies are in line with our economic goals."
Clinton said the economy is not serving the middle class, noting that over the past four years, for the first time since records were kept, productivity has risen while wages have declined. "America did not build the greatest economy in the world because we had rich people," she said. "We built the greatest economy in the world because we built the American middle class."
On health care, the architect of the Clinton administration health care plan that failed in Congress in 1994 said: "I still have scars from having dealt with health care years ago. But it's worth wading into again. But this time we need a public-private-sector consensus about what to do."
Rather than wading in, she stepped gingerly, recommending ways to help workers in their late fifties and early sixties buy into Medicare, and promoting legislation on medical information technology that she has co-sponsored with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
Mayor Richard M. Daley welcomed Clinton back to the city of her birth and, alluding to her possible run for president, said, "Whatever office you are in, we will always welcome Hillary to our great city." During a short question-and-answer period, Clinton was asked whether she thinks a woman will become president someday. "Well, I hope so," she said.